What is the art market like?

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Organizations Art is A Guaranty and Cultuur+Ondernemen organized a number of Artist Meetings where discussions were held on strengthening the independent position of visual artists. Together with experts, artists examined how they can strengthen and expand their independent social and economic position. In this and future editions of BK-information, we always give a short account of one of the reports that Cultuur+Ondernemen made of the meetings. This time about the art market: how does the art market work and how can you respond to it?

Traditionally, the gallery has been the main place to sell art, but there is increasing room for other ways to create a market for your work.ëren. Olav Velthuis is Professor of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam and researches the functioning of art markets: from selling prices to privémuseums. During these artist meeting he shares some insights, combining abstract concepts with practical tips to apply immediately.

Art markets do not stand alone, but function within different types of economyën

To begin with, it is important to realize that there is no question of ONEn art market, but from different art markets: from the auction circuit to top galleries and local art loans. In 2013, artist Banksy demonstrated that economic value is not readily apparent from works of art. In a market stall, he incognito offered his works for $60 - a fraction of the market value. In a top gallery, such a stunt would sell out within minutes, but in this context almost no one showed interest.

Art markets do not stand alone, but function within different types of economyën, namely attention economy, symbolic economy, viral economy, relational economy and winner-takes-all economy.

Attention Economy

The art supply is abundant and attention is scarce. So it is important to first get the attention of potentiële sellers. In doing so, so-called gatekeepers can help: professionals such as gallery owners, curators, auctioneers, jurors and journalists. Their selection functions as distributors of attention. When they pick out your work, you get on the radar of an art audience.

In many areas, traditional gatekeepers have now been replaced by digital ones: Spotify, for example, has completely changed how we discover new music. There is no such clear superpower (yet) in the world of contemporary art. Yet there are interesting platforms that generate and distribute attention to art: think Saatchi, Patreon, Catawiki and Instagram. Since they do not select "at the gate," you have to see to stand out among millions of users. On many platforms, algorithms determine which content is prominently visible. Should you decide to sell your art through such an online platform, find out carefully how the attention is distributed and how you can make the algorithms work in your favor. You can quickly test the findability by Googling.

Symbolic economy

Symbolic economics involves convincing people of the value of your work. There are hardly any objective criteria to arrive at a valuation of art - the maxim sometimes seems to be "what the fool gives for it. The higher the price, the more you have to convince buyers of the artistic quality and economic value of your work.

Without the support of gatekeepers, it is difficult to create symbolic valueërun

Symbolic value production also depends on gatekeepers. Have you completed a prestigious education, won awards, had exhibitions in museums? In short, do you have a good reputation as an artist? That reinforces symbolic value and legitimizes a high price.

Without the support of gatekeepers, it is difficult to create symbolic valueërun. When you're just starting out, it can help you associateërun with familiar names: that way an audience can place you. Don't be afraid to start small. Don't wait for MoMA to call, but organize an exhibition at the local library. Often artists hesitate to show work if it is not in "the right place," but research shows that the benefits of exhibiting at all far outweigh the disadvantages of showing in a place that is not as prestigious.

A gallery or not?

A gallery can contribute significantly to the symbolic value-production, thus increasing the economic value of your work. Also, a gallery can take your work to art fairs, where a large proportion of art transactions take place. On the other hand, they usually charge a commission of 50%. Getting in the door can be difficult: research shows that bringing your portfolio by unsolicited is almost never successful. Galleries primarily scout in their own (artists') networks. In addition, the question is how long the gallery model - which has hardly changed over the past 150 years - will last. Galleries have a high threshold and low visitor numbers.

Research shows that bringing your portfolio by unsolicited is almost never successful

Fortunately, there are more and more interesting alternatives to market your work, online and offline. Conversations among the artists participating in this session yielded the following ideaën on:

  • Join an artist association
  • Join open studio days and art tours
  • Respond to open calls or artist residencies
  • Engage in interdisciplinary collaborations to reach new audiences
  • Crowdfunding expands your network and leads to more engagement
  • Create art on commission, or with a specific buyer in mind
  • Use social media like Instagram or LinkedIn to tap into your network
  • Organize a pop-up gallery in an empty storefront
  • Sell your work at local markets
  • Renew old contacts
  • Use influencer networks
  • Install your work in public buildings or commercial buildings (such as dark store windows)
  • Invest in your digital skills: a well-targeted ad on Facebook can quickly lead to a sale

From the above list, not only does the power of online outreach stand out, but also that of local art worlds: there is much to be said for a focus on local markets as a counterpart to the polluting global art market. In addition, art markets will always have a physical component: many potentiële buyers still like to see works of art in real life.

Always be extra critical when you have to pay a registration fee to participate: does that investment benefit your work, or is it primarily a revenue model for the other person? Do further research and ask around when in doubt.

Viral economy

Online art markets in particular are touching on the viral economy. Through online networks, you build more contacts more easily than in the physical world. Attention is distributed through likes and follows - You don't have to rely on your immediate friends and family (they already know your work), but on the vague acquaintances in your networks. It pays to invest in the operation of viral economy so that you can make it subservient to selling your art.

Relational economics

Art markets are very much about networking. Most people buy art not primarily because of a practical need - an empty space over the couch - but to feel part of a group. Consequently, the art world is full of social events: openings, dinner parties, after parties, VIP previews and studio visits. Keep this social component in mind when selling your work.

Winner-takes-all economics

The art world is a good example of a winner-takes-all market: a disproportionate amount of attention and capital goes to a very small group of artists. And the more successful you are, the more attention you get again. Don't belong to the small group that made it? Then it takes extra creativity and entrepreneurship to achieve success. Whether your work is financially successful often depends more on the structure of the art market than on the quality of your work.

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